November 16, 2007

The Strategy of Conflict

We are told that last week a 64-year old Greek Cypriot died in a T/C jail. The official diagnosis talked about a combination of pneumonia and cancer, that were exacerbated in prison. I am not a doctor but, like me, you probably don’t believe a single bit of this excuse. If 15 G/C policemen can beat two G/C students during Christmas in the middle of the road (OK, it was midnight) without any fear, I can only imagine what the T/C police can do to a G/C “dealing in antiquities” in a T/C prison. Police brutality is rife on both sides of the divide, but if I had to choose a prison, I would pick one depending on my ethnic roots. I also think this would be the choice of most Cypriots on the island.

How has this point been reached? If one could somehow measure trust, do we have any doubt that trust between the two communities has been going down over time? Is it not the case that a minimum amount of trust is necessary to live in peace? Note, I am not talking about building a “bizonal, bicommunal federation,” or a “confederation”. I am talking about being able to live in good, orderly, neighborly and civilized fashion, without fear of being gunned down on the pretext of some ethnic-struggle ideal, by someone who might otherwise have been unfit to be free in society, (a "hero" for some, if you prefer).

Is either government (administration?) on each side of the divide doing anything to stop the accelerating animosity between the two communities? Does either government care about this increased animosity? Will future generations live to regret the distrust being resown on both sides of the divide? If Tassos were on talking terms with Mehmet Ali Talat, could not Tassos have secured the release (or have prevented the death) of the said G/C? What have the administrations on both sides of the divide done to reduce the deep prejudices of their peoples? Had it not been for the Fulbright program, would there have been any contact between the G/C and T/C between 1974 and 2004? Why do the governments on both sides intentionally strive to eliminate all contact between ordinary T/C and G/C? Has the Denktas mentality finally resurfaced gloriously victorious? Who gains from maintaining and encouraging conflict? Who gains from following a strategy of conflict? And what will, in 200 years, be the end result from following a strategy of conflict?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


First of all, thank you to you and the other contributors for an excellent blog – the topics are highly relevant, and the quality of the discussions way better than the fare you are subjected to in most of the local press…

Re: your recent blog entry – was it on purpose or was it just an uncanny coincidence that your choice of heading is identical to the title of Tom Schelling’s famous book? In “The Strategy of Conflict” Schelling (who won the 2005 Nobel prize in Economics) gave a very astute description of how uncoordinated actions can lead to certain focal points/outcomes. The so-called “Schelling point” is an outcome which people naturally tend to because it appears to be somehow assumed by them to be the most relevant/natural, in the absence of any coordination. This is not a bad description of our predicament in Cyprus. Most GC’s have come to think of Turks as ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ or ‘untrustworthy’, with the feelings being reciprocated by the other side. We have reached a “Schelling point” of mutual mistrust which we cannot easily escape without significant coordinated action. Many years of just paying lip service to confidence building measures did a lot of damage and made people on each side assume the worst of their neighbours. The opening of the borders was an anti-climax – instead of becoming a genuine opportunity to start recognising the similarities between people on both sides, there was an initial novelty value which later became just an excuse to confirm the prejudices people had after all the years of propaganda on both sides. The referendum cemented (nice choice of verb?!) the prejudices as politicians helped everyone’s worst side come through.

To develop the theme though, Schelling wrote another very interesting piece called "Dynamic Models of Segregation". Here he demonstrated that total segregation can result from an environment where people have even a small preference for one’s neighbour to be of the same colour (you can of course apply this to any meaningful differences – gender, ethnicity etc). This is exactly what happened in Cyprus – starting from an initial position of some integration (e.g. many mixed villages) we ended up with the TC enclaves in the 1960’s, the invasion of 1974 and the subsequent exchange of populations – which is the ‘stable’ outcome for more than 30 years now. Once you have some segregation, the momentum for full segregation had become unstoppable (you did not need many Denktashes or Tassoses to get to where we are)..... The vicious circle of separation, prejudice and discrimination leads to a self-perpetuating outcome. I can see your point about being more comfortable being in GC police custody, but if I were a random foreigner (e.g. a german or an american or a russian), I am not sure whether that preference would hold true.

The problem we are faced with now is that only coordinated action on a very large scale can change the “Schelling Point” to something more palatable. One of the strongest contributors to this outcome perpetuating itself is the lack of incentives on the part of our "established" politicians to change the focal point – they would otherwise write themselves out of a job. A ‘second best’ outcome (which I actually believe can be reached with little or no coordination – and is the one we are heading towards) would be two states which recognise, respect and trade with eachother. Many GC’s would think that this outcome is worse than having the current status quo – but with the events of the past few years, our lack of credibility in Europe, and the increasing importance of Turkey to the West, I don’t believe that the current status quo is the endgame – it’s a mere transition point to full recognition. And as Schelling had demonstrated in the 1960’s even the deadliest wars involved significant elements of common interest and co-operation between sworn enemies… we have a lot to learn.

16 November, 2007 18:12  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Making the Greek Cypriot death a political issue on Tassos is disgusting!

17 November, 2007 23:04  
Blogger apodimos Kypreos said...

@anon2: Nobody blames Tassos for the death, not me anyway.

18 November, 2007 06:11  
Blogger apodimos Kypreos said...

I guess the choice of title was a subconscious slip, maybe you have a point about our focal point and maybe it was just Denktas that grasped it first before everyone else caught on...

18 November, 2007 06:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You did make it into a political issue. I bet you believe if Tassos weren't President, this wouldnt have happened. I cant, at this moment, think of the word that i feel for your diatribe. It will eventually come to me. For now, im going to use the word bizarre.

With this kind of thinking, can you tell us who you are supporting in upcoming election? Do be upfront with us. Is it Christofias or Kasoulides?

20 November, 2007 22:06  
Blogger apodimos Kypreos said...

Anonymous, I am not losing much sleep about the presidential elections because I dont think much will change regardless of who gets elected. But you are right that I am not terribly excited about Tassos simply because he is supported by former EOKA B "patriots" who still think like they live in 1973, or thereabouts. Other than that, I have not made up my mind yet between Kassou or Jimmy. I hope that adequately addresses your question.

21 November, 2007 10:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You never lose a chance to take a swipe at the leadership of this country.

As a former DISY supporter, i am going to say you are part of the Kassou fan club. I also bet you bookmark every financial times article that mentions Cyprus.

Apodimos Kypreos, its your comment and your blog. If you think you adequately addressed my questions, then there is nothing more i can say....

21 November, 2007 17:50  

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